Kingdom Hearts 2.8… Here we find ourselves with another snippet of story of Kingdom Hearts as we slowly build towards the eventual end of Sora’s story. Well, at least the end of the Xehanort “Dark Seeker” story line as far as the director sees it. For the uninitiated, Xehanort is the villain that’s been behind the scenes orchestrating the entire series thus far. As with the Emperor in Star Wars, only late in the act had he been revealed as his minions are nothing more than marionettes akin to Darth Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin. Only in KH all the villains you’ve seen are pieces or clones of Xehanort… It’s kind of a thing, don’t worry about the details too much. So what’s under the hood this time, is the extended chapter meaningful, and do we even care? Fans have been eagerly awaiting to conclude the journey they began back in 2002 on a still young PlayStation 2.
The answer is yes. We care. I care. A million times yes.
Previously I’ve discussed my excitement for Final Fantasy 15. I had a lot of hope for what the game could be as potential overflowed from various trailers and news points scattered over it’s 9+ year development cycle. As it traveled from being Final Fantasy Versus 13 into it’s final form broken into a film, episodes of an anime, and finally a video game my excitement grew. Before any of that really became a thing to me, my initial interest of this game began back in 2012 on my birthday when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy received a DLC song for an unreleased FF Versus 13, Somnus. The song was gorgeous and the mood was tonally different from anything I knew of Final Fantasy.
That was the turning point where it went from something that I didn’t even bother watching trailers for, to digging up as much as I could via Google notifications. The game was pretty much assumed to be dead at one point as the news was sporadic at best while Final Fantasy 13’s series continued to disappoint at Square. It was out of sight and out of mind until the E3 2013 trailer when it rebranded as the 15th entry of the mainline titles, breaking away from the baggage of Lightning’s saga. Yes, it got a fancy roman numeral all of it’s own as “XV“. Either way that trailer captured my imagination as Square games all tend to do eventually. Later on they’d eventually pair a demo titled Episode Duscae in with their HD port of a previously Japan exclusive PSP game, FF Type-O, and I totally spent $60 on it to get an early poke at what FF15 might be. It’s been two years and I’ve still only put in about 6 hours into Type-0. Really, I could have paid just $60 for that 3-4 hours of content in the FF15 demo and be satisfied. Everything I loved about open world fantasy games (Dragon Age for example) was wrapped up in this actiony, exploration driven Japanese RPG ready for consumption. Super emo characters, party system, myriads of weapons, dungeons to explore, side quests, ridiculously spikey hair styles, and brutally cheesy themes like friendship conquers all. Everything I want from my JRPGs was on parade in a gorgeous seamless world to breath it all in with. This was the Final Fantasy I’d been dying for since 1999’s adventures with Squall & co. I loved it so much I went ahead and wrote an entire blog just about the demo.
Fair warning for anyone that hasn’t played, there will be some general spoilers ahead. After all, you can’t discuss something properly without analyzing the whole.
Domestic Drake, longing for adventure
Let me preface this post with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does a lot of things right. Gun play was dramatically improved for me as they reduced the count of weapons and upped the approaches to resolving an encounter. There’s a lot more power in stealth than previous games as you can mark enemies to better keep track of them as they follow their pathing patterns or hide in bushes. Another nice change is that if you blow your stealth you have the ability to disappear if you lose the attention of the hostiles. New to UC4 is a roping mechanic that lets you Action Jackson all over the place during a gunfight. All-in-all the arenas were a lot more fun to play through for me thanks to those seemingly minor tweaks. Visually it’s set a new standard that I’m sure all following PS4 games will be ranked against. Vistas are stunning, character animations are human, and even water pooled tarp has caused people to stop in awe. Social media was flooded with image after image taken in photo mode. I’ve even seen a few people that have decided they want to try and create a “Postcards from Uncharted” series. Acting performances were on point with Nolan North reprising Nathan Drake’s final outing and Troy Baker running wingman as Samuel Drake. Beyond those two as the leads of the game Sully, Rafe (the new villain), Nadine, and Elena’s actors all killed their roles. So what went wrong?
A few weeks back I was thinking of how much I miss Hack ‘n Slash games. Some of the best were on PS2 with both the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath series of games. For whatever reason those “Diablo-clones” were better than Diablo itself was for me. I really wanted to sink my teeth into a portable game again like Untold Legends PSP again. To my surprise on 3/15/16 Sony released a new game for me to go dungeon crawling with called Murasaki Mist: Akara’s Journey. Ecstatic at the chance to go on a grindy lootfest for only $8 on my Vita I jumped at it. All I could find was a trailer from E3 2014 that looked promising enough. Tack on the extra dev time between now and then and I’m sure it’s even better. It was too new and too low-key to have any reviews… but what the hell, YOLO or something, right?
I’ve had a long history of spending hours with handheld gaming. Thinking on it I’d have to say it goes all the way back to the original GameBoy. I’m sure for most that’s where it starts in one form or another. Nintendo really put some legs on that machine, stretching it out until 2001 when they finally released a successor in the form of GameBoy Advance. For some perspective on just how incredibly long of a shelf life it had, before transitioning to complete support of the GBA Nintendo had sold the original NES, SNES, N64, and GameCube while selling original GameBoy games. Sure there was a flurry of redesigns with the GameBoy Color, GameBoy Light, and GameBoy Pocket – All of which were spruced up form factors that shared the same gaming library. Nintendo established a firm lock on the handheld market and created a rich legacy of portable experiences. Several other companies tried to jump in with their own offerings, all of which were met with weak sales before eventual abandonment. Atari Lynx, Sega GameGear, Tiger’s Game.Com, Bandai WonderSwan, and the side talking Nokia N-Gage to name a few.
There’s a good reason why Nintendo has held the market as tightly as they did. Personally I have a ton of fond memories with the original GameBoy. Even before Pokemon took the world by storm, I dumped tons of hours into both of the Super Mario Lands, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Tetris. That torch carried into the GBA’s remodel (the GBA SP) as it was the only system I owned for awhile. I remember spending countless nights playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or one of several SNES era ports/spiritual sequels like Metroid Zero Mission or Mario Kart Super Circuit. Nintendo always stacked a potent and varied catalog of games that pulled you into that tiny sub-3″ screen. Speaking of which having a backlit screen and rechargeable lithium-ion battery made it the perfect solution to play in bed. Eventually they had to lose some steam though and the DS released to an eager audience with no new content. Thankfully Nintendo had the foresight to include the ability to play GameBoy and GameBoy Advance cartridges to help carry new owners through that drought. It wasn’t until the DS Lite launched that it really caught fire by it’s own right and eventually grew to become the best selling handheld system of all time at 154m units sold. Between the DS and the Wii, Nintendo was banking enough money to buy an island made of pure gold. Times were good and Nintendo remained untouchable in the handheld space. There’s always another side to every tale though…
Earlier in the year PSN ran a sale focusing on Japanese developed games. At the time I was looking for a break from Destiny and the seriousness of western style games in general so I figured this was the perfect gateway out. I ended up blind purchasing Hatsune Miku: Project Diva 2nd f, Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, and Tales of Hearts R. Surprisingly the most cohesive title of the bunch ended up being Tales. Previously I never thought of myself as much of a Tales fan. I played Tales of Symphonia on GameCube back when it released over a decade ago, but hadn’t touched another (of the many) Tales games until 2012 with Vesperia. It made me realize that Symphonia wasn’t a fluke in their catalog and the series might be worth a closer look. Eventually that’d lead me to the rerelease of Tales of the Abyss on 3DS, and most recently to Hearts R. All well built JRPGs that stay the path instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Honestly, I’m completely comfortable with that. Either way, let’s focus on the title at hand.